Photo by Teri Lyn Fisher, original photo on Houzz
Photo by Teri Lyn Fisher, original photo on Houzz

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Interior designer Frances Merrill believes houses can exhibit their own personality. If that’s true, then her home’s original personality could only be described as Frankenstein’s monster. When she and her husband, Chris, found it, the structure was dilapidated and saggy, with dirty cream-colored aluminum siding, fake wood plastic trim and space so tight, it was like the monster himself was trying to squeeze into a child-size tuxedo.

But with a small, simple footprint and unique opportunities to expand the square footage, the Merrills were more than willing to play doctor. Besides, the attached garage had already been converted into a bedroom, and Chris and a friend could build a guest room in a small freestanding shed. “It gave us enough breathing room until we could do a proper renovation,” says Frances, who owns Reath Design.

As for still living in a compact space, the Merrills get creative when it comes to entertaining. “One Christmas we moved our bed into the backyard to make room for a table that could seat 12. We love to entertain, and we never let the lack of space stop us,” she says. Needless to say, this house is finally alive.

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Houzz at a Glance

  • Who lives here: Frances Merrill; husband Chris, the director of production at the American Film Institute; and their children, Honor and Rex
  • Location: Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles
  • Size: 500 square feet; 2 bedrooms plus a freestanding guest room, 1 bathroom
  • Year built: 1928
  • That’s interesting: The house was once used as crew quarters for the Tom Mix Western films.

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When the Merrills bought the house, the aluminum siding and plastic trim were almost a deal breaker. Frances had to remind herself that a simple coat of paint would freshen up the exterior — and conceal its shortcomings. “We painted our house black to hide all of its flaws,” she says.

But this presented its own challenge. “It’s hard to get a door color to go with a black house that doesn’t look weird or like Halloween,” she says. It was her assistant who suggested pink, inspired by a favorite front door she had seen in New Orleans. “I loved it immediately,” Frances says. How to Work With Pink.

Frances ended up favoring the aluminum siding because of how easy it is to clean; a good hosing down is all that’s needed.

Frances and Chris spotted this pink velvet couch outside a junk shop on Sunset Boulevard. With layers of mismatched pillows, sheepskin throws and colorful blankets, it has a punch of personality. “Someday I’d like to design a line of couch cushion covers made like fitted sheets in all different styles and colors,” Frances says. “It’s a great way to freshen up an old couch.”

Frances’ philosophy on open shelving in her kitchen is simple. “I guess if I fed my family really crappy food, I might want to hide it behind cabinets,” she says. “I like to see cookbooks, pretty dishes and things I have collected over the years. It adds warmth and meaning.” Perfect Shelves for Open Storage.

Chris and his friend turned a shed into this guest room. It opens to the yard.

An oversize Christmas card from Commune, where Frances used to work, and a large poster adorn the plywood walls. Frances upholstered the built-in daybed with awning-stripe fabric. Above, shelves hold the Merrills’ collection of L.A. noir paperbacks. Turn a Spare Room Into a Guest Room With a Daybed.

A custom-made leather beanbag sits in the main bedroom, which was formerly the garage. Frances made the rainbow curtains from tapestries she picked up at Urban Outfitters. A textured jute rug covers the painted floor.

A large shelving unit displays various book collections, including “Great Books” and “The Family Creative Workshop,” as well as paintings, prints and photographs.

Frances covered the headboard with cowhide she picked up from a leather dealer in downtown L.A. Simple clip lights from Home Depot are attached.

The side tables in the bedroom are made from slabs of marble that Frances had cut to size and fitted on top of wood crates. The framed poster is Chris’ grandmother, who was once the mayor of Rockland, Maine.

A simple Ikea crib, a wall filled with art and a mobile Frances made during what she refers to as “an unusual DIY nesting moment” create a cheerful vibe in Honor’s room.

A tepee filled with comfortable blankets and pillows makes a backyard getaway for Honor and Rex.

“I like to be surrounded by things that have meaning, whether they feel like they should be there in a design sense or not,” says Frances. “All those things together usually create a very personal sensibility.”

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